NFL Week 4 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* The Raiders have fired head coach Dennis Allen. The new HC will be Oakland's ninth in the last 14 years. No Raider coach has lasted three full seasons since Jon Gruden from 1998-2001. This franchise is run by children.

* Week 4 is too early for byes. The bye schedule this year is really weird, actually.

* Yahoo! called the play on which Michael Crabtree's helmet fell off "scary" and "brutal". That's pretty shameless sensationalism.

* This is the first season since 2010 that no one is 4-0 after Week 4. I thought it would be further back than that.

* Last week, the Seahawks won the coin toss in overtime, and Peyton Manning never got the ball, prompting FOX to address the overtime rules on this week's pregame show. I largely agree with Curt Menefee, Michael Strahan, and Jimmy Johnson, but I still believe there's a better way to do overtime.

* * *

Running Quarterbacks Win Super Bowls

One of the dumbest ideas in sports is the oft-cited trope that running quarterbacks don't win Super Bowls. I actually wrote an entire article debunking this last year, but I heard it again last weekend at my cousin's wedding, from a guy who otherwise has some pretty smart ideas about the game. He said that until Russell Wilson last year, no running quarterback had ever won a Super Bowl. That isn't true, and is in fact ridiculous.

Any definition of "running quarterback" that doesn't include Roger Staubach and Steve Young is a fairy tale. If all you mean by "running QB" is Bobby Douglass, Michael Vick, and a handful of guys who are 23, you might as well say that a unicorn has never won a Super Bowl. You're not talking about a type of player, you're talking about Vick and maybe Randall Cunningham (Douglass didn't have a real career).

The run-first QB is a myth. Such a player hasn't existed in 40 years, and has never had a sustained career since quarterbacks replaced the old triple-threat tailbacks of the 1930s. Other than Douglass, who only started a few seasons, the Super Bowl-era record for rush-to-pass ratio by a QB who started at least 12 games is Vick in 2004, when he ran on 24.6% of his plays, 120 rushes and 367 passes or sacks. Cunningham's career-high was 18.7% (1990), and that's counting kneel-downs and QB sneaks as rushes. The highest career mark by a quarterback who started more than five seasons is Vick's 20.0%. No one else is over 15%, the closest being Cunningham (14.0) and Young (13.8).

"Running QB" is often code for "black guy," and I think the "running quarterback has never won a Super Bowl" assertion was invented to diminish black QBs. But it's been repeated so many times over the years that people who aren't racist at all assume it must be true. The problem is, an equally compelling argument can be made that passing QBs don't win Super Bowls. No quarterback who led the league in passing yards has ever won a Super Bowl. The last championship quarterback to lead the league in passing was George Blanda, for the Houston Oilers in the 1961 AFL. The last NFL QB was Johnny Unitas in 1959. Since the AFL merger, only four players who ranked top-three in passing yardage have won the Super Bowl that year. In comparison, seven QBs who ranked top-three in rushing yardage have led teams to Super Bowl victories, including Young, who gained the most rushing yards and TDs of any QB in 1994, when the 49ers won Super Bowl XXIX.

In every era, it's clear that running quarterbacks win more often than those who don't run. Fran Tarkenton (8.7% rushes) was a legendary scrambler, but Roger Staubach (11.1%) and Terry Bradshaw (9.5%) ran more frequently. Joe Montana rushed more than twice as often (7.4) as Dan Fouts (3.6) or Dan Marino (3.4). Aaron Rodgers has basically the same percentage as Donovan McNabb (9.5 and 9.6, respectively). For that matter, Staubach and Bradshaw rushed more frequently, in their first Super Bowl years (14.9% and 17.7%, respectively), than McNabb (13.9%) ever did.

Running quarterbacks have always won championships, from Bobby Layne in the '50s to Staubach and Young and Russell Wilson. Staubach ranked among the top 10 rushing QBs every season he was a starter, including top-three in 1971, '74, and '75. Young finished among the top three QBs in rushing yardage eight times, most in history, and his 43 rushing TDs are the most by any QB in the Super Bowl era. Wilson has rushed for over 400 yards in both of his first two seasons, one of only 25 modern QBs ever to rush for 400 in a season. The idea that players like this don't win championships is rooted in fear of people who are different, and it's clearly false. Please don't believe everything you hear on TV.

Rant over. Let's get to the power ratings. Brackets show previous rank.

1. Cincinnati Bengals [1] — Lead the NFL in fewest points allowed per game. They held the mighty Atlanta offense to 10, and the season-high is 16, by the Ravens in Baltimore. The Falcons have scored 16 TDs in their other three games, at least four every week, but only one against the Bengals. Carlos Dunlap leads the defense with 3 sacks, while safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka combine for 6 passes defensed, including 3 interceptions.

2. Denver Broncos [2] — One of four teams that is undefeated at home and winless on the road. The others are Atlanta, New Orleans, and Seattle. The Broncos and Seahawks are 2-0 at home, 0-1 away. The Falcons are 2-0 vs. 0-2, and the Saints are 1-0 at home, 0-3 on the road.

3. Seattle Seahawks [3] — I'd love a Seahawk/Bronco trilogy game in Super Bowl XLIX, but it would also be fun to see a Seattle/San Diego rematch, given the Chargers' comments about Richard Sherman.

4. San Diego Chargers [4] — Last week, backup RB Donald Brown carried 31 times for 62 yards, a putrid 2.0 average. This week, facing the horrid Jacksonville defense, he was even worse, 10 attempts for 19 yards. On the season, Brown now has 50 rushes for 100 yards. No player has averaged 2.0 or worse in a season with at least 50 attempts since Louis Carter on the 1977 Tampa Bay Bucs (59 att, 117 yds, 1.98 avg).

5. Arizona Cardinals [6] — Carson Palmer looked great in Week 1 (304 yds, 2 TD, 0 INT), but he missed the last two games with nerve issues in his throwing shoulder. Palmer is expected to start Week 5 at Denver.

6. San Francisco 49ers [10] — Won with defense, holding the mighty Eagles to 11 first downs, 213 yards, and no offensive points. Antoine Bethea had a tremendous game, with 7 solo tackles, a forced fumble that led to a turnover, an interception, and a tipped pass that created another interception.

In the fourth quarter, Joe Buck demonstrated the perils of misusing statistics and accepting conventional wisdom. Andy Lee is a three-time all-pro punter. People assume Lee is a good punter because he has good averages. Believing that Lee is a good punter, people assume he is good at all aspects of punting, which he's not. Here's what Buck said on Sunday: "And now Lee will try to pin them back — one of the best in the game at this very skill. And now he bangs one into the back of the end zone." The punt bounced off the back line of the end zone, nowhere near the field of play. And that's not surprising, because Lee is a below-average punter when it comes to pinning opponents. His ratio of I20 (punts down inside the 20) to touchbacks is 3.27, compared to a league-wide average of about 3.5. Lee is not a great punter, and pinning opponents deep is one of his weaknesses, not one of his strengths.

7. Detroit Lions [11] — Another team winning with defense. Would you believe their offense ranks 23rd in points per game (21.2)? Detroit leads the NFL in total defense and allows only 15.5 ppg. The Lions haven't faced anyone with a winning record, and they're not scheduled to face a team that currently has a winning record until Week 11 at Arizona.

8. Indianapolis Colts [12] — Lead the NFL in scoring (136 points, 34.0/gm), yardage (444.0/gm, tied with Atlanta), passing yards (326.0), passing TDs (13), and average time of possession (35:49).

9. Green Bay Packers [13] — Fifth straight win at Soldier Field. Terry McAulay's officiating crew made it clear early in the game that they would not tolerate defensive plays, and were rewarded by a 60-minute game with no punts, for only the second time in history. The first was September 13, 1992: Bills 34, 49ers 31 in San Francisco.

10. Baltimore Ravens [14] — Don't mess with Steve Smith.

11. Atlanta Falcons [5] — It seems like the NFC South isn't as good as we thought. The teams are a combined 6-10, and if you exclude division games, they're just 3-7. The Falcons gave up 558 yards and 41 points to a Minnesota team that had 460 yards and 16 points in its last two games combined. Rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, making his first NFL start, finished with over 300 yards, a rushing TD, no sacks and no turnovers.

12. Philadelphia Eagles [7] — Scored on a blocked punt, an interception return, and a punt return. It was Philadelphia's first game returning a blocked punt for a touchdown since November 1992 — when they scored on a blocked punt, an interception return, and a punt return in the same game. Eerie. FOX reported that before the Eagles' loss, teams with three return TDs in a game were 71-1-1 (.979).

13. Dallas Cowboys [19] — Three straight wins after an ugly opening-week loss. You know what's crazy? DeMarco Murray is on pace to break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record ... but barely, only by about 25 yards. Can you imagine owning Dickerson in fantasy in 1984? Another parallel: Dickerson fumbled 14 times that season. The game has changed, and 14 is unplayable in modern football, but if an occasional fumble is the price for Murray's brilliance and broken tackles, it's worth it.

14. New Orleans Saints [9] — When was the last time Drew Brees and Tom Brady both played scoreless first halves? I think it was Week 1 of the 2003 season. The Patriots got shut out, 31-0 in Buffalo, and the Chargers played a scoreless first half in their 27-14 loss to the Chiefs.

15. New England Patriots [8] — The Patriots are not as bad as they looked on Monday night, which was really bad. Four of the next five are at home, and they're a different team at home. Since Tom Brady returned from injury in 2009, New England is 38-3 at home (.927) and 25-19 away (.568). That said, you've got to appreciate the frank honesty on ESPN after the game. "Let's face it, they're not good any more," said Trent Dilfer, and Scott Van Pelt echoed that idea in the studio.

The most obvious problem is the offensive line. Kansas City consistently got pressure without blitzing. Longtime line coach Dante Scarnecchia retired in the offseason, and the Patriots traded their best offensive lineman in the final week of preseason. The team's playmakers just don't have much opportunity right now. New England has also failed to replace Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez. There's no downfield receiving threat to keep defenses honest.

Then there's Tom Brady. After the loss, Steve Young called Brady "one of the four best quarterbacks in the league." That's Young's opinion, and it's not the craziest thing I've ever heard ... but it's pretty clearly inaccurate. Brady is 37. He's not playing well this year. He wasn't great last year. He can't click with his new teammates.

Peyton Manning turns every receiver he plays with into a superstar. He made Dallas Clark a household name. He turned Jacob Tamme and Austin Collie into chicken salad. His line shuffled, his running back left in free agency, his favorite receiver retired, he switched teams. None of it mattered; he's always dominant. Emmanuel Sanders entered this week as the third-leading receiver in the NFL. Sanders spent four years with Pittsburgh and never gained more than 740 yards; he's on pace for twice that in Denver. Manning still has it. Brady doesn't. Tom is probably still a good quarterback, but he's not great any more.

16. Chicago Bears [15] — It's tough to overcome so many injuries. The offensive line performed pretty well despite missing two starters. But the defense was without starting linemen Jared Allen and Jeremiah Ratliff, not to mention Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman. Allen has pneumonia, and reportedly lost 15-18 pounds over the last week. This broke his streak of 113 straight games, dating back more than seven years. For Ratliff, it's the second straight game he's missed after suffering a concussion in Week 2. Linebacker Shea McClellin missed his second straight game as well; McClellin has a hand injury.

17. Houston Texans [16] — Ryan Fitzpatrick led the team in rushing. Fitzpatrick's 11-yard scramble in the second quarter gained more yardage than Alfred Blue or Arian Foster had all day. The Texans haven't played anyone good yet, but they're 3-1 and lead the AFC South. Houston defensive backs have combined for 7 forced fumbles and 4 recoveries. The secondary is having a great season.

18. Miami Dolphins [21] — Scored 38 straight points over a 45-minute span against Oakland. Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno have combined for 74 rushes and 415 yards, a 5.6 average. The numbers don't change much if you add Damien Williams and Daniel Thomas, dropping to 5.5. Miami is rushing very efficiently in 2014. Last season, Miller and Thomas combined to average 3.9 yards per carry.

19. Pittsburgh Steelers [17] — Looked great in their win over Carolina, mediocre the other three weeks. They barely beat Cleveland, lost badly to Baltimore, and dropped a home game to the lowly Bucs, who scored a season-high 27. Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are great, but the Steelers aren't getting big plays on defense.

20. Kansas City Chiefs [26] — Mike Tirico called it "an avalanche of a game." It was New England's biggest loss in over a decade. Since I wrote nearly 200 words about punting in the San Francisco summary, I'll note here that Jon Gruden and Tirico were absolutely right about Dustin Colquitt: he's one of the best punters in the NFL. Unfortunately, his picture resembles Sloth from The Goonies.

21. New York Jets [20] — Keep losing close games. All of their losses were one-possession games, eight points or less. Three weeks from now — after games against the Broncos and at San Diego and New England — close losses will probably seem like a fond memory.

22. Buffalo Bills [22] — Benching E.J. Manuel for Kyle Orton. That's fine, but the player who should really hit the bench is Keith Rivers. I don't know if Rivers thinks he's still in college, or he's just lazy, but rather than lean down and touch Arian Foster — late in the fourth quarter, with Buffalo trailing — he allowed Foster to roll for a first down. It cost the Bills over a minute and both of their timeouts. If I were an NFL coach or GM, I'd never keep a guy like that on my team. You either cut him, or trade him to the Raiders. (If I were a GM, I would trade all my trouble players to Cleveland, Jacksonville, Oakland, or Washington.)

23. Cleveland Browns [23] — Two common opponents with the Panthers: Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The Browns lost both games, by a combined five points. The Panthers lost by a combined 46 points. Browns rate ahead.

24. Carolina Panthers [18] — Torn apart by injuries. DeAngelo Williams has a sprained ankle, potentially leaving Carolina without its top three RBs. Thomas Davis and Charles Johnson both have hip injuries, and Greg Hardy is still out of football on the Commissioner's exempt list.

Greg Gumbel really likes Luke Kuechly. Every time Kuechly made a tackle, Gumbel announced his name, sometimes preceded by phrases like "Guess who?" and "Who else?", implying that Kuechly makes all the tackles. When anyone else on the team made a play, Gumbel focused on the offensive players. This is actually very common, standard announcer treatment for star defensive players. The absolute worst was the last few years of Ray Lewis' career, when he wasn't a very good player any more, but most of the media adored him. Trent Green deserves some credit for politely pushing back at Gumbel by pointing out Kuechly's mistakes (mostly running himself out of position) without making a big deal of it. Kuechly's not a bad player, he's just overrated. I don't want the announcers to tear anyone down; it's about balance and about honesty. People trust announcers, and guys like Gumbel routinely take advantage of that trust.

25. New York Giants [28] — Eli Manning's game mirrored that of Kirk Cousins. Eli had five TDs and one turnover; Cousins had five turnovers and one TD. Four of Manning's five TDs were passes; four of Cousins' five turnovers were passes. The Giants' offensive line totally dominated Washington's front seven.

26. Minnesota Vikings [27] — Matt Cassel is out for the season, and Teddy Bridgewater was carted off in the fourth quarter, bringing Christian Ponder onto the field. An MRI on Bridgewater's sprained left ankle came back negative, but the Vikings play this Thursday, so it's not clear whether he'll be ready.

27. St. Louis Rams [25] — Four of the top five teams in this ranking had Week 4 byes. So did the Rams and Browns. Super Bowl-caliber football returns in Week 5, when the Dolphins and Raiders have byes.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [31] — J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the NFL, but Lavonte David is having quite a season. Against the Steelers, David made 9 solo tackles, three of them behind the line of scrimmage, and forced a fumble. On the season, David leads the NFL with 8 tackles for loss. Gerald McCoy and Michael Johnson sacked Ben Roethlisberger a combined three times in their returns to the lineup.

29. Washington [24] — Kirk Cousins committed five turnovers on Thursday night, including three what-was-he-thinking interceptions. In standard fantasy football leagues, Cousins scored 11 points, which is low but not terrible. In fantasy, his one TD pass cancels out all four INTs, and many leagues don't count lost fumbles. Making touchdowns worth four times as much as interceptions is idiotic. No player can single-handedly lose a game when the final score is 45-14, but Cousins came close.

30. Tennessee Titans [29] — Worst in the NFL in third-down percentage (26%) and passer rating (67.3).

31. Oakland Raiders [30] — We're sorry, London.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars [32] — Lost every game so far by at least 17. They don't typically have much home-field advantage, but three of the next four are in Jacksonville. That has to be some kind of consolation, right?

Comments and Conversation

September 30, 2014

Trakar Shaitanaku:

So, by what reasoning do you place Denver ahead of Seattle when they both have the same record and Seattle beat Denver in their head-to -head match-up?

September 30, 2014

Brad Oremland:

Denver took the Seahawks to overtime in Seattle; that strongly suggests the Broncos would win on a neutral field. The teams looked about even in Weeks 1 and 3, but the Broncos were clearly better in Week 2.

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